Shelter (1998) is a modestly budgeted action thriller made in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by director Scott Paulin. The film features no significant Arkansas landmarks.

The movie centers upon hero Martin Roberts (John Allen Nelson), an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) whose corrupt superior Landis (Charles Durning) tries to have him killed. Martin flees and is protected by Dimitri (Peter Onorati), head of the Arkansas-based “Greek Mafia” that dominates illegal gunrunning throughout the American South from its headquarters in an Arkansas mansion. Landis joins forces with a rival gangster, Cantrell (Kurtwood Smith), to wipe out Dimitri’s gang. However, Martin gets into more trouble when he falls in love with Helena (Brenda Bakke and stand-in Monica Staggs), Dimitri’s unhappy wife. (Dimitri’s demand for total obedience by Helena is presented as stereotypically Greek.) At the film’s unsurprising conclusion, the hero and heroine survive, the villains die, and the gang carries on under new management.

In addition to playing the hero, Nelson produced Shelter and co-wrote it (uncredited) with credited screenwriter Max Strom. The film’s main asset is attractive photography of rural and urban locations, but much of the movie is set inside the villains’ mansion. This is likely the only film set in Arkansas to feature an abundance of Greek music. Even at only ninety-two minutes, the story is slow and padded, with only a few action sequences. Durning is the only famous actor in the film, but the previously Oscar-nominated star was seventy-three years old and overweight when he made Shelter.

The film, which received an R rating, appears to have been released straight to VHS and received no real critical attention.

For additional information:
Shelter.” Internet Movie Database. (accessed November 9, 2017).

Michael Klossner
Little Rock, Arkansas


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